A social media trend where eager tourists drive out to flowering canola fields, jump fences and seek out the perfect selfie is becoming “dangerous” and a growing biosecurity risk for farmers.
Two weeks ago, Tim Condon was driving over the crest of a hill at about 90km/h near Harden–Murrumburrah in southern New South Wales when he had to slam on the brakes. He said two cars of families with little kids were spread out across the road taking photos of the canola.
“Luckily I was in a Prado and had the wits about me so I could stop in time. If I had been a big double stock crate, full of stock, you wouldn’t have been able to stop. So that really hit me in the face at how unaware a lot of these people are.”
Each spring, social media platforms like Instagram are saturated with photos of people posing in a sea of yellow canola flowers with captions such as “The best things in life are free” and “Life is full of beauty, sometimes we have to slow down to notice it”.
Condon, who is a Delta agronomist and works with growers across the NSW Hilltops region, said the social media trend is becoming a problem in Harden because it’s so close to Canberra.
“There has been a promotion in Canberra to go do the canola drive, and people are just randomly driving out to a farm, pull up and wander through a crop,” he said.
“They’re straight up a biosecurity risk in the current environment, so that’s a concern for growers.”
Tony Flanery, a Galong wheat and canola farmer, said under the latest changes to the NSW government Biosecurity Act the onus is on farmers to have a biosecurity management plan in place and keep a register of people who visit the property.
“There’s a real fear about foot-and-mouth disease (FMD), and what quarantine people have been through and where they’ve come from,” he said. “It’s something that poses a very real risk to us now, particularly.”
Flanery said if there were an outbreak of FMD in Australia, a key concern is that before farmers can claim any compensation from the government they have to provide their biosecurity plan and a register of visitors.
“But when you’ve got people just wantonly trespassing, there’s an argument as to whether you did or didn’t enforce your plan appropriately.”
Flanery said he’s witnessed a number of instances where people have parked in “dangerous positions” on the road or have trespassed on his property – but one experience in particular left him “flabbergasted”.
He once found a couple “literally two kilometres” from the road in the middle of his paddock taking photos and said it was “nearly impossible” to get them off his property.
“They basically refused to leave. Like they had the camera set up on a tripod and were settling in for the afternoon.”
According to Flanery, one Boorowa farmer had people drive into his paddock and cut the fence to get in because they wanted photos of them hanging out of their car.
Flanery said he is happy for tourists to visit rural Australia and take photos but they need to be aware of the risks for farmers and consequences of their actions.
Chris Groves’s farm is based between Cowra and Canowindra in central-western NSW and he said biosecurity and “keep out” signs have been hung on the property.
“We’ve also got all our staff instructed that if they see someone in the paddock, immediately phone the police,” he said. “If you go jumping fences into people’s paddocks, you are breaking the law.”
He said if people want to visit canola fields there are plenty of organised tours and tourists can contact the Cowra Visitor Information Centre.
“It’s equivalent to someone jumping into your front yard in Sydney to take a photo with your flowers. That’s my yard – get out.”